Central Iowa to become first “agrihood” in Iowa
By KRISTIN DANLEY-GREINER
CUMMING – It’s the hometown of former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, a quaint slice of rural Iowa life that features a Christmas tree farm, a garden center, a popular pub and Iowa Distilling Company.
And soon it will become the first ever agrihood in the state.
There are more than 200 agrihoods across the country and it’s a concept that’s catching on like wildfire. They are neighborhoods, or developments, built near urban centers that include pieces of rural life anchoring them such as community gardens or a working farm.
“If you think about it, we’ve built houses around golf courses the last several decades, so this greenspace would instead have an orchard or a community market,” Kalen Ludwig, realtor and new construction specialist with Peoples Company, said. “You still have to get in your car and drive to get to a restaurant for example, but you want to be able to walk to a farmers market and the community area that features a few retail shops, things that bring people together.”
Steve Bruere, 38, and his partners with Diligent Development are behind this concept being pushed through Iowa’s cornfields. They’re eyeing approximately 400 acres near Cumming for the proposed $260 million project that would boast an organic vegetable farm, vineyard, orchard and community gardens. Housing options included are “glamorous” houses, condominiums, senior housing, apartments and retail options.
“It’s a nice rural area with the Great Western Bike Trail and the Cumming Tap,” Ludwig said. “We think it will become an even more popular destination for people to bike to once all of the amenities are in place.”
Daren “Farmer D” Joffe is a San Diego, California-based consultant helping Bruere plan the agrihood.
“He’s helping make it sustainable and to include what he said would work for the area,” Ludwig said. “He’s helped start up a lot of these around the country.”
Farmers markets are wildly popular in Iowa, so it’s no surprise that such an event might be an anchor for this development. Fueling the push for this development is the construction of Microsoft’s largest, to date, U.S. data center not too far away. There’s also the Southwest Connector being built nearby, routing a considerable amount of traffic past the site and improving accessing to urban areas from the agrihood.
Cumming Mayor Tom Becker said officials are excited about the concept of the agrihood, especially since the community wants to cling to its small-town feel. Everyone involved believes this development will allow families wanting a couple of acres in the country to fulfill their dream without cutting into existing farms.
One section houses front gardens in a greenway park near what is called a “celebration barn” with paths connecting to the 17-mile Great Western Trail.
“I think it’s amazing,” Becker said. “When Steve came in with it, we were surprised. It’s also a somewhat odd design where the houses face each other and no driveways, only garages that face the alleys. The land still has to be annexed by the city to be rezoned as a planned unit development before they submit drawings. It’s definitely in the infancy stages.”
It’s important that the anchor – a working farm or farmers market for example – be able to function on its own. Farming is what ties this entire project together, so options would include offering cooking or gardening classes, and making sure the farm is fully sustainable financially.
Bruere also owns Peoples Company, which focuses on ag and farming real estate. He already has a project underway in the area worth $112 million that includes 300 homes and townhomes. It preserves the local historic schoolhouse where Harkin attended and calls for a craft brewery to be built near the trail along with a hops garden.
“In the next couple of months, we’ll be closing on the first piece of land, which is 192 out of 400 acres,” Ludwig said. “I think the earliest they’ll break ground on the development is in the fall of 2019.”
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